The Sword - Age of Winters Review
By Mark Hensch
For some, the concept of heavy metal is not one of music. Heavy metal (for those few who truly understand the greatness inherent in its many twists and turns) is like a religion, a crusade. It is an ageless king, and a powerful monarch. Like all kingdoms, heavy metal has conquered all number of realms; black, death, progressive, stoner, doom, and many more. Despite the differences between them all, it is still possible for unity and many have all sworn a pledge to uphold the crown of metal with their very lives. For a select and elitist few, the only way to truly defend true metal is to play it in it's original form. Enter Austin, Texas's The Sword. Swearing fealty to the almighty chieftain of metal, these knights of traditional rock fury uphold decades of tradition and do it all with conviction and technical aplomb. How is it that a band debuting in 2006 can sound every bit as mighty as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or St. Vitus?
Age of Winters is one of the largest blitzkriegs I've heard in this early year; in fact, so many spectacular riffs have been pounded out on this CD that it makes me wonder whatever happened to classic rock glory in the first place. To top it off, the band tosses in Norse mythological themes, vague conceptual undertones, and fantastic arrangements for the most esoteric monster of an album since Sleep's Holy Mountain opus. Anyone who knows me well enough understands the pillar upon which I have placed the almighty Sleep, and as such, it must be noted that I do not toss out such praise lightly. The Sword are the real bloody deal; a fantastically heavy traditional doom band, the likes of which care about nothing but battle, arcane lore, and the pursuit of heroic feats in ancient ages.
"Celestial Crown" is a soaring doom riff pounded out just for the Hell of it. At first listen, it won't seem like much, but when placed in the context of the entire album it is the only way Age of Winters could have started. The massive "Barael's Blade" teeter-totters between thundering riffs and crashing cymbals; when you hear a roar proclaiming you should "BEHOLD THE BASTARD'S BLADE," you'll have joyous images of Connan stacking slain foes and burning them on a funeral pyre. The excellent "Freya" howls with an indignant wrath; blazing guitars light up like forest fires and chugging riffs churn within the bowels of the Earth.
"Winter's Wolves" carries on the charge with a raiding party of a metal song; barbaric palm-mutes segue into tight riffs and grim lyrics telling of violent curses. The spacey "The Horned Goddess" sounds like an early period Black Sabbath jam...except for the fact this incarnation was spawned in Norway rather than Great Britain.
"Iron Swan" slays so many foes at once it has to be heard to be believed. Swaying in on a graceful clean passage that vaguely recalls folk music from a Nintendo game (Zelda perhaps?), the song next turns into a siege engine of crushing force. On an album completely saturated with fantastic guitar riffs, this song has the best of the best.
The exquisite "Lament for the Aurochs" is a mournful lament (go figure) that decries a loss of imagination in the world. As the album's longest song, it is the doomiest as well, and the concept is a very unique one I wish more bands would touch on. The music itself is top-notch true metal, so raise your arms and unleash a mighty cry!
The majestic "March of the Lor" is an instrumental piece divided into eight sections. Like any doom band worth their salt, The Sword sound even better when they can just relax and lay down pulsing grooves. In fact, "Lor" is probably one of my favorite instrumentals in recent memory. "Ebethron" is a goosebump-inducing final chapter; everything that makes metal great is included in this song.
In case my praise was too metaphorical, let me sum it all up. The Sword are a damn wicked band and Age of Winters is a fantastic album. In fact, this CD is so wholly headbanging that I can't stop listening to it and throwing the horns. I'm still trying to get my head around how a band can be this good on their first full length. A band to watch, and heirs apparent to the throne of the metal gods on high. Come 2007, I have a feeling Age of Winters will be on my top 5 list for the best album of the year. Pick this up serf, or you will be slain where you stand!
1. Celestial Crown
2. Barael's Blade
4. Winter's Wolves
5. The Horned Goddess
6. Iron Swan
7. Lament for the Aurochs
8. March of the Lor
a) Through the Breach
b) Iron Ships on Seas of Blood
c) Invocation of Halora
d) The Black Web is Spun
e) Misery of the Plague-Born
f) The Spider's Descent
g) Conquest of Kingdoms
h) Age of Winters
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The Sword - Age of Winters
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